For almost 17 years, the military has adhered to a policy called “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the prevention of openly gay and lesbian service members in the armed forces. However, if President Barack Obama and the Pentagon have their way, this doctrine will no longer be in use.
This past Tuesday, high ranking officials from the Pentagon visited Capitol Hill to meet with senators to discuss the administration’s plan.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Admiral Mullen, chairman of the joints chiefs of staff, stood before the Senate Armed Service Committee to present a new approach and answer questions from skeptical senators. Since its implementation in 1993 under Democratic President Bill Clinton, “don’t ask, don’t tell” has been an issue engulfed in controversy.
The central points of this policy forbid openly gay and lesbian individuals from serving their country, and prohibit military leadership from questioning the sexual orientation of service members.
This policy has angered many in the gay and lesbian community which has fought to have this law repealed. Over the past several years, this movement has gained momentum as past arguments favoring “don’t ask, don’t tell” no longer seem to resonate as strongly as they did in the early nineties.
According to Elizabeth Stiles, a political science professor at John Carroll University, “As societal attitudes about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have become more favorable, many people are unconvinced by these old arguments.”
During the campaign, Obama promised he would work with Congress for new legislation. In his most recent State of the Union address, he called upon Congress to repeal the “law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”
Following the President’s initiative, the Pentagon has taken the first steps to adopt a new policy. Gates said, “We have received our orders from the commander-in-chief and we are moving accordingly.”
The Pentagon has set a goal of getting rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell” by the year’s end. In order to do so in the most effective matter, Gates has set for a study group to be established to provide insight and recommendations.
Gates has asked Commander of United States Army Europe, Gen. Carter Ham, and Jeh Johnson from the Department of Defense General Counsel to lead this endeavor.
This controversial policy change already has the support of the nation’s top officer in the military. “Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do,’ Admiral Mullen told Senators. Despite the support from the Pentagon and the White House, several Republicans have expressed doubts whether or not it is the appropriate time for such action.
Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and John McCain (R-AZ) have cited the potential negative impacts on unit cohesion and discipline if a policy alteration takes place.
McCain said, “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ has been an imperfect but effective policy. And at this moment, when we are asking more of our military than at any time in recent memory, we should not repeal this law.”